UK regulator Ofcom is brining in new rules for operators which would require them to provide clear information to customers roaming on foreign networks.

Andrew Wooden

March 25, 2024

2 Min Read

From 1 October 2024, operators will need to notify customers when they start roaming abroad according to the new rules, as well as provide clear information about the nature of the charges ‘so customers can make informed decisions about whether – and how – to use their mobile phone abroad.’

When roaming, operators must provide details on any fair use limits or time limits that apply, inform them that they can set a spend cap to limit their spend, and tell them where to find additional information about roaming.

The release states that while many UK operators do voluntarily send customers alerts when they travel abroad, but that following the UK’s exit from the European Union, EU ‘roam like at home’ rules, and UK law requiring mobile operators to alert customers of roaming charges when they start to roam, have ceased to apply.

An Ofcom review found that the quality of information being provided ‘can be inconsistent and unclear’ - 19% of holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when using their phone abroad, and 18% said they do not research roaming charges before travelling, apparently.

It also identifies ‘inadvertent roaming’, where phones roam to a network in a different country even though the customer is not physically in that country. Its research claimed 14% of UK mobile customers experience this when abroad or still in the UK.

"The last thing holidaymakers want when returning from a trip abroad is an unexpected mobile phone bill,” said Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Policy. “At the moment, some customers aren’t getting clear information from their provider to help them manage their mobile use and plan their spend. Our new protections will mean you’re told what it’ll cost when you start roaming, so you can be confident that there won’t be any surprises when it comes to your mobile bill while on holiday."

Apparently all this is a particular issue in Northern Ireland near the border, as well as on the English coast where customers something inadvertently roam to French networks. The new rules also mean customers should be properly alerted when this happens, and provide information such as telling people in border regions that its more likely to happen, or treating mobile usage in Ireland the same as being in the UK – which sounds like it might be a bit more complicated to set up.  

Kaleido Intelligence estimated that wholesale and retail revenues from consumer and IoT roaming connections will hit $45 billion this year - a 47% increase on ‘pre-pandemic levels’. This surge will be driven by rising data roaming activity, concluded the report, primarily from consumers transitioning to 5G services.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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